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Investigator: Officer was biased, made ‘rookie' errors

July 11, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

A San Diego investigator hired by the defense for Blake Mostrong, accused of vehicular manslaughter in the Oct. 7 death of Michelle Marie Grady, said Tuesday the California Highway Patrol officer who investigated the crash was biased and made "rookie" mistakes.

For the second day in a row, Stephen Plourd, an investigator hired by defense attorney Robert Espinosa to reconstruct the accident scene, was on the stand.

Espinosa asked if Plourd thought Highway Patrol Officer Pablo Torrez was biased in the way he investigated the Oct. 7 crash in which Mostrong's van struck and killed 17-year-old Michelle in western Imperial County.

Torrez, who had been with the Highway Patrol for about seven months at the time of the crash, was the lead investigator in the case.

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Plourd said he thought Torrez was biased because of the witnesses he interviewed on the night of the crash — Eric Welter and Charlotte Lang, both of whom were friends of Michelle's and were at the scene at the time of the crash.

Welter also was struck in the crash.

Plourd said that based on his investigation he thinks Torrez had already reached conclusions concerning Mostrong's guilt during the initial accident scene investigation because, Plourd said, Torrez did not address any possible violations by Michelle or those with her.

Espinosa also asked Plourd if, in his opinion, the golf cart hit by Mostrong's van should have been impounded rather than released to the owner of the cart.

Plourd said it should have been impounded, and he called it a "rookie" mistake by Torrez.

Following that statement, Deputy District Attorney Wayne Robinson started to question Plourd, asking him how he went about forming his opinions on the case.

Plourd said his opinion is based on a review of the evidence, among them reports, statements, physical evidence and testimony.

Plourd said he reviewed documents, listened to taped interviews and read reports in this newspaper.

Robinson asked Plourd if in his investigation he took into account statements by Blake Reed, who was in the van at the time of the crash and who said he saw lights up ahead on Wheeler Road and warned Mostrong of that.

Robinson further asked, if the lights on the golf cart were on would a mile stretch of road be enough time for a driver to react and avoid a crash.

Plourd said it would be plenty of time.

Robinson then asked if the perception and reaction time would be effected for someone who is under the influence. Plourd said such abilities are affected.

The prosecution has argued Mostrong was under the influence of both alcohol and marijuana at the time of the crash after both drinking and using the narcotic at a party in the Superstition Mountains not far from the crash site.

The prosecution is asking the jury find 21-year-old Mostrong, of El Centro, guilty of vehicular manslaughter, hit and run and driving under the influence.

The defense contends not only was Mostrong not under the influence, but Michelle and Welter had been drinking at the time of the crash that would have taken away their attention from any approaching vehicles.

Robinson, in questioning Plourd, challenged Plourd's statement that Torrez was biased in his investigation.

Robinson showed Plourd a Highway Patrol report in which Torrez did summarize there were other "associated factors" involved that led to the crash.

Robinson also showed Plourd a page of Torrez's report and asked if the report states that Mostrong was under the influence and was to blame for the crash.

"It doesn't," Plourd said, but added you have to read the entire Highway Patrol report.

Robinson then asked if, as an accident reconstructionist, did he prepare a report of his findings.

Plourd said he did not.

Robinson asked Plourd how much he was to be paid for his work for the defense.

Plourd answered $11,000 to $12,000.

Robinson further asked Plourd how many other cases he was working while working with the defense for Mostrong. Plourd said he was likely handling up to 50 cases.

"Is it difficult to juggle 40 to 50 cases?" Robinson asked.

"No, not at all," Plourd responded.

On the issue of whether Mostrong was under the influence, Robinson asked Plourd if he had any personal knowledge of Mostrong's sobriety at the time of the crash.

Plourd said he did not.

Robinson also asked if Plourd had personal knowledge as to whether the lights on the golf cart were on or off at the time of the crash.

Again, Plourd said he did not.

Robinson asked Plourd if he had reached the conclusion Michelle and Welter were solely to blame for the accident, and if he had considered the possibility Mostrong may have been under the influence.

"I did consider the possibility that he was under the influence," Plourd said, adding he did not think Mostrong was driving like a person who was impaired.

Robinson then asked hypothetically, if the golf cart had its lights on would it have been possible to see the cart.

"Yes," Plourd responded.

The trial was to continue at 9:30 this morning.

Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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